SOME THINGS ABOUT PORNOGRAPHY

I. These are some things about pornography. Not pornography as an evil thing or a good thing, or what should be allowed or not and why, or drawing distinctions between pornography and erotica, or the whole `what turns me on is okay but what turns you on is just sick' ball of wax. Just pornography as art about sex, art about explicit sex, revealing what's usually hidden, the wonders of the unseen world. And maybe it's mostly bad art, like a one-sided football game is bad theatre or a day-old sandwich from 7-11 is bad food, but that's another story.

II. I used to work at a pornography store. We sold pornography of all stripes, all variations of gender, style, mode and format of consumption. Photos, text, video, audio, implements and unguents, and multichannel video booths functioning as closed stages for live sex acts, either solos or pairs. The store attracted a range of users, from the mildly curious first timer to the casual user to the stone addict. People would hang around the video booths for hours, using and cruising, moving together in the enclosed space of the booth, counterpointing the events on-screen, physical revelation in the orgone confessional box. People using the video to ribbon through sex like eating peanuts with beer, but for some people the reflection is the main score.

III. Sometimes a tree falls down in a field of cows, and the cows will walk over to it and stare at it. It used to be standing and now it's on the ground. It's something different in the field and the cows start to hang out around the tree and watch it like it's television, attracted to the rupture in the order of things, gathered around it for months, even after they completely forget why they started doing it. Sometimes people watching pornography are like cows staring at a tree. Watching a depiction of things that cuts through everyday assumptions of public and private, of real and imagined. Consuming things the powers-that-be don't want you to. Or do they ? Maybe it's a training in accepting the reflection for the real thing, the specially mediated version instead of the true source. Maybe it's a false schematic of satisfaction substituted for the realization of desire. Maybe it's the repression of desire itself made desirable by substituting a recursive rat's maze model of realization for the cutting edge of physical certitude. You won't rock the boat if you keep running around your little square. The conspiracy theory of pornography production.

IV. They've found a number of figurines, neolithic venuses, from about 8000 to 3000 B.C., practically headless limbless bubbles of fertility, ovarian mudpies, the matrix of earth and water in a handheld woman-shaped lump of earthflesh, dried and hardened and fixed, no longer flowing, the flowing is in your mind. And some older, most male anthropologists said they were primitive pornography, carried on journeys say, like the truckdriver with his stash of porno mags behind the seat, figures of desperation and longing. Then newer, mostly female anthropologists said they were idols, representations of the goddess, portable shrines, objects of worship. But things are made for a purpose, the distinction between a sculpture and a tool is a recent one, and the line between an idol and pornography might not mean too much to someone in 6000 B.C. Mahmud Shabestari said that the true Muslim is an idol worshipper, and no being can in truth love other than its creator. A reflection is a perceptual tool, a veil before a mystery, an embodied mystery.

V. Once upon a time, people spoke the same language and used the same words. And they built a city with a tower in the middle that reached into heaven. Archers would stand on the terraced gardens and shoot arrows into the sky and the sky would bleed. And they thought they were wounding angels and that was the proof of their mastery. But the city died and the gardens dried up and the tower fell and the language cracked from within and shattered into pieces scattered over the earth. And they called the city `Babylon', which means confusion. And the nomads passing through would stop and stare at the ruined tower like cows mesmerized by a fallen tree.

VI. You can use the body as a magical tool, but it's kind of like playing croquet with flamingos and hedgehogs. And it smacks of a gnostic mind-body split: the mind is from god but the body is an aberration so let's fry it in its own desire, two poles broken and reunited, analyzed and synthesized, the hook of divinity swallowed under the bait of flesh. If the body is a fleshy envelope with the soul tucked inside, then it's the empty space that makes it useful. Like the song says: profit comes from what is there, usefulness from what isn't. Or maybe we're helped by what is not to use what is.

VII. Pornography strives for a direct physical effect. It doesn't care about subtlety anymore than it has to. It doesn't care about art, and in that sense it suggests a paradigm for all artistic working. It's the first genre testing the popular viability of a new medium: photography, video, now virtual reality. It's a measure of how much people feel like cozying up to technology and how much distortion can be tolerated in transmission. Waves of distortion, veils of sound, wobbly ladders snaking up and down the tower, dried bloodstains on dead gardens, the frozen flood, lifeless glaciers reaching up to heaven.

-- Michael Douglas

M.D. might be a video and performance artist living in Seattle.


This SAPPHO, EROS & PSYCHE issue also features interviews with QUEER COLUMNIST DAN SAVAGAE, S/M PERFORMANCE ARTIST KATLYN WOLFE, FALCON, Lady Julia's "Day in the Life of a Sex Industry Worker", Stephen Abhaya's LOVE POEMS TO GOD and much more.

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